Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is warning Iranian women not to "play" with Islamic law. He spoke two days after an Iranian women's rights activist, Delaram Ali, was sentenced to ten lashes and thirty-four months in prison for the so-called crimes of "propaganda against the state" and "disrupting public order."
Delaram Ali took part in a peaceful demonstration in Tehran in June 2006. She and others were protesting Iranian laws that discriminate against women in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. In addition, Iranian law says a woman's testimony is worth half that of a man's. Ms. Ali, a university student, is also a member of the campaign to collect one million signatures for a petition demanding the abolition of such laws.
The June 2006 women's rights protest in Tehran was violently broken up by security forces. Close to seventy people were arrested, and at least eight were sentenced to prison. But in most of those cases, the sentences were suspended. Ms. Ali's was not.
Iranian author Azar Nafisi says it is the duty of free people around the world to speak out against the Iranian government's abuse of women's rights activists:
"Let the [Iranian] regime know that the world knows about it, and the world will not tolerate it."
Ms. Nafisi condemns the idea, claimed by some extremists and by Iran's Islamic regime, that the way women are treated in Iran is strictly a cultural matter:
"No women, no matter where they come from, like to be flogged. No woman likes to be stoned to death, or told that she doesn’t count as much as a man. . . . Iranian women, like Americans, or French, or Afghanis, want to be happy, want liberty and want rights."
The United States supports the full political, social, and economic empowerment of women and their active engagement in all aspects of society, as an essential element of democracy. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement that the U.S. "stands with the women of Iran, who courageously struggle for their universal rights and justice in their country."